Stunning, vast, challenging and remote. The Mongolia Bike Challenge might just have the right mix of ingredients necessary for Cyclist’s next off-road journey worthy of epic Big Ride status.
Words: Alex Malone
Photography: Paolo Martelli
It was Cyclist photographer Tim Bardsley-Smith who kicked-off this whole off-road malarkey. Day after day of riding through stunning yet brutal terrain through New Zealand’s Southern Alps at The Pioneer, Tim sold it to us through his beautifully captured shots. We bought in and found ourselves lining up for our first-ever multistage MTB event. The Crocodile Trophy, as Australia’s most iconic off-road race, was a fitting second choice. We’d long dreamt of the Croc’s outback adventure and by the end of last year we’d signed up and completed a few more. The 2018 season loomed and the Mongolia Bike Challenge was waiting for us to come knocking.
We just didn’t know about it yet.
‘Have you heard of the Mongolia Bike Challenge?’, asked Marcus Enno (Beardy McBeardy) – there’s a theme happening here with our photographers. By the end of January we had talked details of the race with both the organiser and the race’s jersey sponsor Santini. More recently you might have seen some of Marcus’ Swiss work over at Beady’s Caravan. Richie Porte’s yellow (and winners) jersey from Switzerland, along with the leader’s jerseys at TDU, La Vuelta and UCI, all produced by Santini. If that still doesn’t jolt your memory try Cadel Evan’s stint in the pink jersey back in 2002 while riding for Team Mapei. The family owned company has been helping the sport’s very best stand out amongst the bunch since 1965.
While this budding Cyclist rider turned (sometimes) writer will merely be a bystander when it comes to those the top steps of the jersey podium, I’ll sleep soundly at night knowing that marginal gains enjoyed by the leaders won’t go beyond those which I will be experiencing from Stage 1. I’ll also get to choose which jersey to wear for each stage – you could say I’m better off staying well clear of the leaderboard. With temperatures ranging from 10-30 degrees Celsius during the day and dropping to near freezing in the evening, what to pack will become all the more crucial. We got the kit pack (almost) right at Pioneer and Croc but Mongolia requires a slight tweak to the list. We’ll cover that before we leave this time around.
Steppes of Mongolia: Beauty and the Beast
Now in it’s 8th year, the Mongolia Bike Challenge (MBC) features six stages across 618km and 9,340m of climbing. While The Pioneer packs packs over 15,000m into a significantly shorter distnce, the 1,500m starting altitude in Mongolia, I’m told, more than adds to the challenge.
‘Lonely steppes, strenuous and a test of physiological endurance’, reads the brief from the Founder and Race Director Willy Mulonia but with all ups must come the cycling-related downs – the fun parts. ‘We have designed a course that every passionate biker may desire. The MBC race offers mountain passes, unspoiled rivers and sceneries of rare beauty’. Now this is more to our liking.
Running from 12-18 August, the 2018 MBC will kick off with a leg-warming route from the capital of Ulaanbaatar with the finish of Stage 1, 105km and nearly 2,000m of climbing later at the Geo Mandal Ger Camp. On paper, the MBC appears to be a faster and less technical course when compared to the likes of Pioneer and Croc and so may present itself with more opportunities (and less suffering) for this road-focussed… roadie.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be talking more about equipment and kit selection, training, tips from former Khan racers and what to pack for a race like the MBC.
For full course and race details, including how to score €500 (AUD$800 approx) off your entry, head to mongoliabikechallenge.com.